December 3, 2011

Hot chocolate taste test

This little experiment was so much fun!  For a while, I've been thinking about different ways of making hot chocolate (or hot cocoa - I'm just going to use the two terms interchangeably here since I think most of us do) and which my family and I would prefer the most.  So I decided to hold a tiny, totally informal and unstructured, hot chocolate taste test.  Our six-year old was very eager and excited to take part in this
When I think of winter, I think of warming up with cups of hot chocolate.  Ok, I also think of Christmas cookies, chestnuts, cakes, chocolates, and twinkling lights.  But back to the topic at hand.  I love making some hot chocolate to have with our "Christmas treats" throughout December.  We make a little time to gather round in the kitchen with a little plate of treats and some hot chocolate.  
The three types of hot chocolate are ready for tasting, along with some chocolate chip cookies
If you're like me and if we were to take it literally, your hot chocolate is really hot cocoa and you make it from a mix.  I've ripped open many a packet of Swiss Miss in my day (there's no shame in it); as a kid, pouring water over the powder and giving it a stir was as much cooking as I could muster and I was very proud of myself.  Nowadays, it's still a mix but our mix of choice has been Godiva's milk chocolate hot cocoa mix.  Convenience is the biggest draw since you only need to heat up some milk and stir.  We also think it's quite tasty.  But what about homemade hot cocoa using unsweetened cocoa as a base?  Or how about taking it a step further and making Parisian hot chocolate with actual chocolate? 

So this is how we came to our little taste test.  There were just 3 participants: my husband, our six-year old, and myself.  Scientific, it is not, and you could say I should be disqualified since I'm the one preparing the cups.  We just have to remember this is all in the name of fun.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to the three contenders for favorite hot cocoa/chocolate in our household.  All three cups were made with whole milk.  Check out how different each look on appearance alone.
The first cup above is the Godiva hot cocoa mix.  Just add warmed milk to the mix and stir. 
Second, we have a cup made with unsweetened cocoa powder and sugar.  You can say it's our own cocoa mixl; essentially, we're making a chocolate paste as the basis for this hot cocoa. 
Third and last, we have the Parisian hot chocolate.  I guess we can say this is the authentic hot chocolate here.  It's the richest tasting one using bittersweet chocolate.  I have to say that on appearance alone, this would take the prize.  Would you agree?

*Now which cup of hot chocolate/cocoa do you think "won"?  The answer might surprise you.  You'll have to click on to read the results but I do have to say that overall, all three cups of hot chocolate were good.  There was a small difference of opinion (the little one takes a much firmer stance than the wishy washy adults) and we found that we might prefer one over another depending on circumstances.  But we did pick a winner.  The results were not unanimous but two tasters agreed in totality. 

I won't make you wait any longer.  The winner of this informal and unofficial (and maybe somewhat silly) hot chocolate taste test was...

The Godiva hot cocoa mix (in milk chocolate)!!!

Yes, the mix won!  Are you surprised?  I was!  Here's how the voting broke down.

Husband's picks in order of preference:
#1: Godiva hot cocoa mix
#2: Unsweetened cocoa powder
#3: Parisian hot chocolate

As my husband pointed out, he (and you) might prefer one type over another depending on circumstances or your mood.  He found the Parisian one a bit too dark and rich for his everyday taste but it'd be great after a morning on the slopes, let's say.  He found the mix easier to enjoy on a "normal" basis although it is a bit on the sweet side.

Six-year old's picks:
#1: Godiva hot cocoa mix
#2: Unsweetened cocoa powder
#3: Parisian hot chocolate

The little guy's picks are the same as Dad's but I'd like to note he got to taste and select his preferences first.  I have to tell you that, no kidding, when he tasted the Parisian hot chocolate, he immediately said "it tastes like Scharffen Berger".  My mouth dropped open because I did in fact make the drink with Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet chocolate!  He's obviously had too many of their tasting squares lately!  Ironically, the little guy loves dark chocolate but he insists he does not like the Parisian hot chocolate at all.

My picks:
#1: Unsweetened cocoa powder
#2: Parisian hot chocolate
#3: Godiva hot cocoa mix

It was really hard for me to rate the drinks and make my selections.  All of them are good.  Frankly, they look so different that I knew exactly which was which so it wasn't a blind taste test for me.  Trying not to let that knowledge affect my pick, I felt I liked the unsweetened cocoa powder version the most because it gave a deeper, darker flavor than the mix without being as heavy and rich as the Parisian one.  My biggest complaint on the mix is that it's a little too sweet in comparison to the others but overall, it is what you expect from a good cup of hot cocoa and it goes well with some treats.  When you taste the Parisian hot chocolate, you know what it is right away.  I love the thickness and appearance, and it is very tasty (see recipes to follow) but leaves little room for anything else.  It is the drink and the treat in and of itself.  I would note that it's meant to be consumed in smaller quantity given the richness and would be served in small cups (more like 1/2 cup or 4 oz. servings).

This little taste test was great fun.  By the way, this is how I tagged the cups but after making them and seeing how different they looked, it was really unnecessary for me.  My son declared that "red was the winner!"
I love that my little one was excited to be involved in this since alas, he does not share my love of cooking or baking.  Eating yes, cooking least for now. 

Here's a quick look at how I made each cup of hot chocolate.  I've included the recipes for the 2 homemade versions in the end.

Godiva mix: 

This one's as simple as it gets.  Two tablespoons to one cup of milk.  I've used whole, low fat, and skim milk with it and they are all welcomed in our house. 

Unsweetened cocoa powder:

I use my favorite, Pernigotti unsweetened cocoa powder, as the basis for the drink.
You can play around with the amount and porportion of cocoa powder and sugar when making your own mix.  And it's neat to make extra and stash away for next time.  I was too heavy handed with the cocoa powder in this case; I'd say for a good bet, start with 2 tablespoons of cocoa and 1 tablespoons of sugar to one cup of milk.  Stir a little of the warmed milk to the cocoa mix you just made to create a paste and then combine it with the rest of the milk and heat together.  Add a touch of vanilla extract at the end if you like.

Parisian hot chocolate:

To make one cup (which would be two servings), I used 2 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.
When the milk is warm, start whisking in the chocolate.  When the chocolate is melted, continue whisking on a low flame for several more minutes to thicken it.  I used about half a tablespoon of brown sugar to sweeten the drink at the end. 


Hot cocoa from scratch
- For 1 cup -

1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoons sugar
Teeny pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional

Mix cocoa powder, sugar, and salt together in small bowl.  Warm milk in a saucepan.  Whisk a bit of the warmed milk into the cocoa powder mixture to make a paste.  Add paste to the rest of the milk and cook, whisking the mixture until combined, smooth, and hot.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.

Parisian Hot Chocolate
Adapted from David Lebovitz

- For 2 small servings -

1 cup whole milk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of light brown sugar (or to taste)

Heat milk in a saucepan.  When milk is warmed, whisk in the chocolate until melted.  Continue cooking and whisking for several minutes on a low flame to thicken the drink.

Add brown sugar to sweeten, if necessary and to taste.  (The amount of sugar you want/need depends on the type of chocolate you use).

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